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Poster: sunmonster Date: Dec 14, 2010 12:18pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Who was Pearly Baker?

I love this theory (wish I could claim it as my own - I found it some time ago at: http://www.well.com/conf/deadsongs.vue/topics/221/Wharf-Rat-page03.html )


Rather than assume Hunter made Pearly Baker a woman, I read the poem
as the narrator mistaking August West's statements . . .

My name is August West
and I love my Pearly Baker best
more than my wine
....more than My wine
more than my maker
though he's no friend of mine

Here, rather than assume "he's no friend of mine" applies to "my
maker," I'd argue it applies to Pearly Baker . . . August says I love
Pearly Baker better than wine or God, but Pearly's no friend of mine.
West knows who the Rev Baker is; and the next verse I think supports
this interpretation (of he's no friend of mine):

Everyone said
I'd come to no good
I knew I would
Pearly believed them

August is complaining here that everyone said the booze would do him
in; he didn't agree, but Pearly (Rev. Baker - the prohibitionist)
agreed with the assessment that booze is bad.

Later, we read this:

Pearly's been true
true to me, true to my dying day he said
I said to him:
I'm sure she's been
I said to him:
I'm sure she's been true to you

August says that Pearly (Rev Baker, the prohibitionist) was correct
(i.e. booze did me in.) The Narrator (not the author) misinterprets
this, assuming Purly is a woman who wronged West, and responds with
what he believes is sympathy, "I'm sure she's been true to you."

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Poster: fenario80 Date: Dec 14, 2010 12:58pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Who was Pearly Baker?

This seemed like such a stretch, and I was so ready to just dismiss it as some English Lit guy with waaay too much time on his hands, but the truth is that, right or wrong, it's an interesting interpretation.

For me, this read streamlines the song's message quite a bit and adds a hint of the dark Hunter humor that seemed to have been missing, in the way the wanderer misunderstands what the Wharf Rat was saying. "Purely Baker was right: booze will mess up your life." "Oh, yeah? I got a girl, too." It also explains why there even is a wanderer, which is something I have wondered before about this song - "Why is it structured like a conversation? Why is it narrated?" Maybe the narrator is there just so that he can be unreliable ...

Not sure I buy it 100%, but it opens the song up in a really interesting direction, so many thanks for that.

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Poster: sunmonster Date: Dec 14, 2010 5:17pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Who was Pearly Baker?

Exactly. Buy it or not, it's a thoughtful and innovative interpretation.

Furthermore, whatever Hunter himself was thinking, if it helps us view the song in a new light, what's the harm?